T-Mobile MVNO Ultra Mobile expands international calling reach to 70 countries

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) MVNO Ultra Mobile is expanding the number of countries included in its international calling plan to more than 70, as the company focuses on being the MVNO of choice for those interested in cheap international calling and texting.

Starting tomorrow, Ultra Mobile said it is giving every customer 1,000 minutes per month of free international calls to more than 70 countries and unlimited SMS texts to more than 190 countries. The company first debuted the feature, Ultra Zero, in August, when it said customers could make free calls to Canada, China, Mexico, Singapore and the United Kingdom for the first 1,000 minutes. The new plans include calls to some of the most popular calling destinations, such as India, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Nigeria and Vietnam (the full list can be found here). Ultra boasted that its customers can now call 70 percent of the world's population, or 3.3 billion mobile subscribers.

Ultra launched in October 2012 and now has a range of pricing plans, starting at $19 per month for 250 voice minutes, unlimited global texting and 50 MB of data. The plans range up to $59 per month for unlimited voice, global texting and data with the first 4 GB at higher speeds. Ultra Mobile operates on a bring-your-own-device, SIM-only model.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Chris Furlong, Ultra Mobile's executive vice president of product development and marketing, said that the expansion builds on the August Ultra Zero launch, which he said was essentially a test to see how strong customer demand was for international calling. "We really want to make international calling like a call anywhere else," he said.

The international calling service relies on the global calling card long distance network built by Hometown Telecom, a company that was founded by the same partnership that founded Ultra Mobile. Furlong said Ultra has been cultivating relationships with international carriers for years and has its own international switching and routing capabilities. He said Ultra has figured out the best international carriers to work with and is driving enough calling volume to them that the company gets better rates than competitors. "Intentional is core to our business," he said. "We don't treat it like an add-on."

In Late October, T-Mobile said its Simple Choice individual and business customers would automatically get unlimited data and texting in more than 100 "Simple Global" countries worldwide, and will only pay 20 cents per minute for voice calls when roaming in the same countries. Furlong said T-Mobile's decision did not spur Ultra to act, but that they are working toward the same goals.

"It follows the same general philosophy, which is to treat customers well, and to give [them] those features and services that have traditionally had a huge markup on them at what is a much more realistic and competitive cost," he said.

Furlong declined to say how many customers Ultra Mobile has, but confirmed that since launching it has sold more than 750,000 SIM cards. He said the company's focus on international has been a strong suit and that at some point in the future Ultra might add global roaming. "We'll always be pushing to include more destinations, lower rates or get more minutes" for customers, he said.

Furlong said the ability to call a family member in a place like India or Mexico every day as if it was a normal call "has a hugely positive impact on someone's life."

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